Stephen Jackson's Beef Tartare With Braised Fennel & Lemon-Caper Jam
THIS week I thought it would be interesting to go to the other end of the cooking scale, and do something a bit ‘cheffy’, following last week’s rather playful bunnies on the lawn.
It’s almost two years now since I left The Weavers Shed and the daily routine of intense prep and barely-controlled chaos of service. I also realised that it’s been a long time since I plated a dish in a certain way, with precise placing of the elements to make the dish not only a feast for the palate, but easy on the eye and appetising.
Sometimes it’s nice, even in a domestic setting, to think about the dish you’re about to serve and think of the best way to put it all together.
Ideas change over time; the overformal, over-garnished dishes of the 70s would look ridiculous now, and we’re slowly moving on from the 80s/90s ideas of stacking meat and veg, and pooling sauces. It’s much more of an organised rustic vibe these days, where the food should look like it just happened to land that way on the plate.
I pondered this recently on my way back from a most amazing meal at a fantastic restaurant in Cartmel in Cumbria. Those of you who know it will understand just how beautiful a village it is – tiny and idyllic, and in the heart of the place sits Simon Rogan’s L’Enclume (www.lenclume.co.uk).
The word is French for ‘anvil’, for it’s in the village’s former blacksmiths that this incredible eatery is based. For years, the team there have been developing a stunning cuisine based partly on wild-foraged foods, obscure native plants and locally-sourced meat and fish, but also with a strong backbone of scientific cooking techniques.
These days, to get the very best out of ingredients, chefs use modified sugars, seaweed extracts and other natural chemicals to develop their dishes. They use water-baths, vacuum-packing and low-temperature slow-cooking to achieve breathtaking results.
You can even see ‘daylight being let in on magic’ for yourself now, as they have a test kitchen called Aulis, where, for a price, up to six of you can sit in privacy opposite the development chef, the genial Dan Cox, and watch as he prepares a multi-course tasting meal for you, answering questions and offering tips. It’s incredible fun.
He is also in charge of their new kitchen garden, a vast plot outside the village where huge arrays of micro-leaves and veg are being grown, along with fruit trees, currant bushes and some livestock.
A recent Roux scholar, Dan is the very epitome of the modern chef – fiercely talented, with a passion for flavour, twinned with a love of nature and horticulture.
This man cares what happens to his venison, knows his hogget from his mutton, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of wild edibles and picks rock samphire on his seaside bike rides.
An example to all chefs that this is what you should be aiming for – a complete mastery of, and voracious interest in the world that brings you your ingredients.
One dish he presented to us was a tartare of local venison, strewn with various complimentary flavours including mustard and fennel (he even made little liquid-centred candied sweets with home-made fennel gin), beneath which lurked a smear of unbelievably intense lemon and caper jam which made the dish for me.
I resolved to have a go myself, and, with a little help from Dan, made a pretty good home version using some lovely Bolster Moor Farm beef.
So this week, it’s fancypants time, and yes, it’s raw meat. ‘Normal’ service will be resumed as soon as possible. But you should try everything once, eh?
A note: the jam takes at least 24 hours to make, but makes plenty and keeps for weeks.